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Bird's Focus Flies in for Sol Rally Barbados
Cars are the stars at Scrutineering on Friday

The most recent World Rally Car ever to arrive in the Caribbean touched down at Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados shortly after 1.00pm today (May 20) in the cargo hold of a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747, which was also carrying a large contingent of competitors and supporters heading for Sol Rally Barbados 2009, the Caribbean's biggest annual international motor sport event.

The 2007 Energy/Vent-Axia Ford Focus WRC of former motorcycle racer Paul Bird will be among the star attractions at pre-event Scrutineering, set to attract thousands of fans to the Sir Garfield Sobers Gymnasium on the outskirts of the island's capital, Bridgetown, between 4.00pm and 8.00pm on Friday (May 22).

Reunited with Ian Windress, co-driver for his UK National Rally Championship title win in 2005, 'Birdy' finished second to Kris Meeke in Sol RB08 in a Subaru Impreza WRC S9; he then announced his decision to retire from competition, apart from running his PBM team, the official factory-backed Kawasaki outfit in the World Superbike Championship.

Bird has since re-launched his career, however, aiming for a second National title; shortly before the Championship's opening round, Rallye Sunseeker in February, he acquired the Focus from M- Sport - former drivers include Jari-Matti Latvala - which also meant his equipment now matched that of friend and arch-rival Steve Perez, whose own Focus 07 was formerly campaigned by Marcus Gronholm.

Following a bad start - both retired from Sunseeker - a stirring battle has raged: Bird finished third, second and first respectively in the next three rounds, with Perez three times in the top three. Both now trail multiple National Champion Marcus Dodd by just a few points . . . but miss the next event to compete in Sol RB09.

Bird's victory on the Manx Telecom Rally in early May came after the Geest Line had shipped the other European cars, hence the Focus airlift. Many had hoped Perez would do the same but, through his Kick Energy and Vodka Kick brands, he sponsors the popular annual Chatsworth Rally Show, now in June, making the timetable too tight.

Class action right through the field

While 'Birdy' will be aiming to finish in front of Meeke this year, there are many down the field, enjoying class battles just as tense. In SuperModified 9, there have been three different winners in as many years . . . and all are back, hoping for more success.

In local events, the winns have gone to last year's RB08 class- winner James Betts, now with co-driver Josh Delmas in the All Terrain Plus/Makita/Black Bess/Yamaha/Champion Auto/Quik Start Auto/Kendal Sporting Opel Corsa; in a class with a healthy mix of machinery, the challenge will come from '06 winners Josh Read/Mark Jordan (Automotive Art Toyota Starlet) and '07 victors, Jamaicans Tarik Minott and Peter Clarke, in the Royal Computers/Extreme Sports/ Tropical Battery Suzuki Ignis JWRC.

Trinidad's Vishal Dhanraj and Richard Ramsingh appear in the Lucozade Energy/Lange Trinidad/The Dispensary/Automan/V3 Rally Team Toyota Starlet - David Williams finished class second in that car last year - after stepping down from four-wheel-drive.

Daryl Clarke and Russell Brancker (Area 5 Auto Works/Mom's Pasta Products Mitsubishi Mirage) could be in with a shout, along with Neil Corbin/Aaron Kirton (Nassco/Jason Jones/Auto Solutions Toyota Starlet), as would the 3W's/Flyin' Fish/Aqua Pur Toyota Starlets of Karl Waterman/Matthew Staffner, Stuart White/Jason O'Neil and Ryan Wood/Raymond Parris, if they didn't spend so much time deciding whether to go for times, entertain the crowd . . . or try for both!

Mixing it with the SM9 runners will be the fast men from Modified 7, won twice in the last three years (second in '07) by Adrian Linton (Ravensden/Morris Straker Construction/Garbage Gobbler/Crane & Equipments Vauxhall Astra GSi); reunited with brother Jonathan after wife Jackie sat in last year, Linton again starts as favourite, having been the consistent winner in local events.

There's a good selection of challengers: Jamaica's rapid Bobby Marshall (Motor Sales & Service/Singer/Tru-Juice/Ocean Spray/TGIF Mitsubishi Mirage) debuts in Barbados with local co-driver Dario Hoyte, the returning Norman Catwell has England's Stuart Leach alongside in the Ellesmere Quarries/Chicken Pen Racing Peugeot 205 GTi, while Freddie Gale/Kyle Proverbs (Gale's Hatcheries/Nassco/VP Racing/Workz Mechanical Services Toyota Corolla RunX) will want to improve on their hat-trick of class thirds since '06.

Aside from the brothers Linton, family connections include Catwell's son Kyle, co-driven in the Ellesmere Quarries/Chicken Pen Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI by Justin Harrison (son of island motor sport stalwart 'Tiny' Harrison), and married couples Ron and Giselle Layne (SDRR/Pavements & Foundations/L & N Workshop/Auto Solutions Nissan Sunny) and England's Cheryl and Barry Spencer (Eden Vauxhall/ Creative Space Solutions/Old Castle B & B/ABS Embroidery Vauxhall Astra GSi), Cheryl the event's only female driver.

Sol Rally Barbados 2009 (May 29-31) and Shell V-Power King of the Hill (May 24) are organised by the Barbados Rally Club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007; title sponsor is the Sol Group. Marketing partners are Automotive Art, Banks, Digicel, McEnearney Quality, Red Bull and Simpson Motors; official partners are the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association, Barbados Tourism Authority, Divi Southwinds Beach Resort, Geest Line, Stoute's Car Rental and Virgin Atlantic; associate sponsors are ARMAG, Caribbean Airlines, Crane & Equipments, Merville Lynch Productions, Little Switzerland, Redline Fuels and Shelbury Construction.